The main island of the Marquesas is Nuku Hiva, roughly 10 x 15 miles with over 3000 people. On the south side of the island, there are 3 large, lush valleys. The center one is Taiohae which has 2/3 of the population as well as the being the government seat for the Marquesas.
As the largest and most populous island, Nuku Hiva has a rich history that left numerous archeological sites. It was on this island that the young Herman Melville jumped ship from the Acushnet and stayed with the natives in Taipivai before escaping and writing his first successful book, Typee. If you are interested in learning about Marquesan life it was destroyed by disease and missionaries, then I strong suggest you check out this book.
Our principal interest in Nuku Hiva was to acquire crew. We picked up Tony on April 2 and went on to explore the island of Ua Huka. We returned to pick up Matt 2 weeks later. They each flew to Tahiti on a jumbo jet, then took a smaller plane for the 3-hour flight to the Marquesas. There are 1-2 such flights to Nuku Hiva per day. The airport is on the other side of the mountainous island from Taiohae, so it’s not easy to meet there. We paid a local guy, Coco, to take us to the airport to meet Tony, but we didn’t want to pay for the 2-way trip to meet Matt. Matt arrived on the same day as the big Dutch cruise ship Maasdam, so Coco was planning to be busy driving camera-laden retirees on a tour of the island. We arranged for Lucy’s son to pick up Matt. (Lucy was the clipboard carrying director of festivities for the cruise ship visit.) Matt’s ride never showed up and he couldn’t call us from the airport. He’s a resourceful guy, so Matt found his own ride and met us on the dock before we knew there was a problem.
The cruise ship visit was interesting. Maasdam is a giant ship that anchored out on the middle of the bay and gave birth to orange lifeboats with 75 passengers. The lifeboats docked at the fishing pier where the people were escorted off the boat and given a local greeting with flower-laden girls singing, big tattooed men in loincloths banging drums, and a fat man with a strange grin holding a baby goat. Some people were whisked into waiting cars, possibly to be taken away and eaten. Others milled around town where carnival style tents had been set up with flower-laden locals selling carvings, food, and t-shirts. These people-pods arrived at the dock for hours. Each time, the singing girls put on their best smiles, the beast-men beat the drums with ferocity, and the goat looked its cutest. This must be a big day for the local people, but I kind of felt bad for them. Later in the day, the cars returned with the uneaten pensioners and the pods swallowed up the people and were in turn swallowed by the giant Maasan, which blew a loud horn and left. I don’t think that we were the only ones relieved to see it go.
We sailed to several bays on Nuku Hiva, none of which were amazing on their own. We had become accustomed, and even expected gorgeous views of maintains and valleys. Ho-Hum. We anchored in bays with cloudy water, so they weren’t good for swimming or snorkeling. The beaches were muddy or rocky, so they weren’t good for playing frisbee. The only fish we caught were small sharks. We did explore the village of Taipivai, which is a very small town with ~100 people, a store, a school, and a church. We also discovered the evil nono bugs. Nonos are sand flies that are too small to see and strangely too small to notice when they bite you. But they leave behind a BB sized bump that itches ferociously for days and leaves a scar that lasts for weeks. Max and I got dozens of these bites, but we can only guess when we got them. We’re always on the lookout for them – but we don’t know what to look out for.
We took a full day driving tour across the island with Richard, an English-speaking native with a passion for local history. We sat on benches in the back of his truck as he drove as fast as possible on steep, windy mountain roads. We stopped frequently to enjoy nice views or to walk around sites with historical meaning. We checked out a local museum where Richard told us more about Marquesan history and culture. We also visited two sites with ancient paepaes, which are stone foundations for buildings. The temples that were built on these must have been impressive structures, hundreds of feet on a side. The sites that we visited had a large open central region used for dances and sport. There are 40 such sites on Nuku Hiva, most are now neglected. With so few people here now, it is hard to imagine this place two hundred years ago, with thousands of people thriving in each of these valleys. Richard told us that every few years they have cultural festivals at sites like these. After being nearly wiped out by disease and religion, Marquesan culture is being revived and the people here show immense pride in their history. I hope to return to the Marquesas, scheduling the visit so Laura and I could attend one of these festivals together.